Swachh Kolar 2: One pourakarmika for 1,000 people, yet city-wide waste collection is over in 5 hours


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After reading the previous post on Kolar, so many people want to know the WHATs and HOWs that went into transforming it into a truly and holistically clean city by its City Municipal Council authorities.

It’s holistic because it just doesn’t put all the waste into one bin and send it for landfilling. It does not believe in apparent cleanliness by focusing on only clean roads but deals with each stream separately in the best possible manner. All this achieved despite limited financial resources and humanpower.

As Assistant Engineer Kotreshappa Benni and Health Inspector K G Ramesh took the Solid Waste Management Round Table team around in the city, the officials’ passionate explanation laid bare this much for sure: The district administration banks not on some inanimate machinery, foreign technology or expertise. It banks on its backbone: The pourakarmikas and their supervisors.

According to Kotreshappa, Kolar, Dandeli and Haliyal are the only three local bodies out of the 215 in Karnataka that live independent of landfills. So how did all this evolve so organically? What explains the functional relation between parts and the whole? What did they get right that BBMP hasn’t?

Waste collection method

We got off our van at a point where we saw some PKs in action. Please note that the officials did not take us to some predetermined spot of their choice. All of us got hooked to Kotreshappa’s explanation on every aspect of waste collection.

  1. Each cart, fitted with four bins, is pushed by two pourakarmikas—gloved and armed with a weighing scale. PKs blow the whistle as they enter the streets and people walk out of their houses with bins and put their segregated waste into separate bins. Sometimes PKs also help them with unloading.
  2. Along the way, the staff also scoops up fallen brown leaves from roadsides and dumps them into one of the bins.
  3. They weigh the segregated waste and make a mental note of it.
  4. At each strategic location, there is a collection point. When the bins get full, the PKs place them at this spot. A truck wandering with empty bins gives them as many as they need and loads up the filled ones.
  5. The district administration has tied them up with local kabadiwallahs and raddiwallahs. The PKs sell them plastic, paper waste and other recyclable items like rubber, metal, etc. The revenue generated goes back to the PKs as an incentive. What cannot be sold (low-grade plastic) goes to a yard where three separate sheds have been built to store such inerts.

Why do PKs weigh their waste?

Each PK is under strict supervision by a supervisor or route manager who monitors the level of compliance on each street or road. He checks the weight and sees if it is lower than the average quantity. If it is low, that means segregation is suffering in that street. He talks to the PKs concerned and tries to fix the problem.

Waste auditing

All these statistics are computed at the corporation office every day by the route managers. This kind of systematic waste audit not only helps with monitoring, but also gives a lot of insights into various other aspects of municipal waste management.

Route managers

A total of 10 route managers are under the health inspector’s hawk-eyed vigil. Any road with litter comes under scrutiny, so do their route managers. The inspector does regular beats, especially the problem areas.

The pourakarmikas at work.

Pourakarmikas, the change agents of Kolar city.

Humanpower and machinery at work

Total population of Kolar city: About 1,50,000.

Total number of health inspectors: One.

Total number of supervisors: 10

Total number of pourakarmikas at work: 150.

Total number of push-carts: 75.

It takes just 5 hours

The waste generated by 1,50,000 people is collected, sorted, part of it sold to recyclers and wet waste is sent for composting in just five hours!

One PK for 1,000 people

The result of the efficiently designed system is this: Only 150 pourakarmikas are enough to handle the waste generated by 150,000 people. In other words, 1:1,000. It signifies not just the commitment of the PKs on the move, but the value of segregation at source.

The PKs don’t have to sort the mixed waste dripping with leachate. They don’t have to touch hazardous medical waste to pick out (by now contaminated) kitchen waste. They don’t have to curse themselves for doing this work. Just by putting our waste into three separate categories at home, the Kolar people have shown how to make the lives of millions of others so much more livable.

So no matter how much we beat around the bush, it comes back to the same fundamental responsibility: Segregation at source.

One thought on “Swachh Kolar 2: One pourakarmika for 1,000 people, yet city-wide waste collection is over in 5 hours

  1. Thanks for sharing this.Just shows what is possible with creating awareness, change makers and governance. Truly inspiring for other cities to emulate.

    Liked by 1 person

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